It turns out, dinner was beside a campfire.
Jongin explains to him that in their tight-knit family, campfire dinners are a celebration of escaping near-death encounters. Kyungsoo doesn't really see what’s so celebratory in that. If it were up to him, he’d be rocking himself to sleep in the dark confines of his room.
He clearly hasn’t been social in a very long time.
While others in the group he had yet to be introduced to were setting up outside in the cool air (with the new firewood Wendy and T.C. had somehow found time to collect), Kyungsoo was led to meet their leader. She was situated in what was once the principle’s office. The irony.
Hyojung had her back turned to him, jovially engaging in a conversation with someone else Kyungsoo didn’t recognise. Their leader was tall (much like everyone else in their group), bronzed skin glistening with a slightest sheen of perspiration, hair tied up and arms by her side, putting her broad shoulders on display. She turned to greet him and Jongin as they entered.
“You must be Kyungsoo,” she smiled at him kindly, reaching out her hand to shake. Kyungsoo reciprocated immediately. Her dark eyes rivalled that of Sehun’s, and her upturned nose told him she meant business. She was equal parts gentle and scary. “I heard you kicked some serious ass today.”
“So polite,” Hyojung pursed her lips, impressed. “Jongin and Sehun could learn a thing or two from you.”
“With all due respect,” Kyungsoo started slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, “I’m not here to stay.” He felt Jongin shift from one foot to the other next to him, and he felt compelled to add, “for long.”
Hyojung nods in understanding. “That’s a shame. We could use more hands around here. Lily here does her best to help me manage things but it is tough. It’s been awhile since we’ve settled down and I can say we’re as safe as they get. There’s no electricity but there’s clean water as you may already know,” She paused, hesitant to continue but doing so nonetheless, “and there’s a number of children we need to provide for. Food, education, basic survival skills…” she trailed off, eyeing his every expression sharply. Her own expression read, how can anyone be selfish enough to say no to kids?
“I’ll think about it,” Kyungsoo maintained. He was starting to feel a little claustrophobic in the spacious room, and he looked at Jongin to indicate his desire to leave. Jongin smiled, then nodded for him to speak. “It’s nice meeting you.” Kyungsoo bowed at both her, and to the other lady behind her.
“We’ll be right behind you two.” She nods towards the door, effectively dismissing them.
Kyungsoo sighs at least thrice in the time it takes for Jongin to lead him to where the campfire was set up. Jongin was being awfully quiet too. Kyungsoo could only guess that he was just respecting his privacy and allowing him to think. For once.
The fire is already well lit by the time they reach it, Jongin soundlessly ushering Kyungsoo to sit next to him. Kyungsoo feels toasty, being so close to an open fire, every nerve in his body became lax. He didn’t realise how tired he’s been, running around for weeks without the chance of resting, till he feels his eyes become droopy as he watches the flames dancing in the night air.
He is handed his own empty plate, the object feeling foreign in his hands. A platter of assorted meats is passed around, Kyungsoo picking up a few pieces unsurely. Wendy sits next to him, encouraging him with a sweet smile.
“We weren’t properly introduced,” she starts thrusting out her left hand. “Wendy.”
“Kyungsoo,” he shakes it unsurely, also with his left hand.
“Wendy is left-handed,” Jongin begins. “She thinks that just because it’s the apocalypse, she can change the world order to suit lefties.”
Kyungsoo was dumbfounded. Was everyone in this group an oddball?
He tentatively took a bite from his food, closing his eyes in pure ecstasy as he munches more aggressively. His entire being was filled with the satisfaction of extinguishing his starved appetite. He eats like he’s tasting food for the first time, practically inhaling it. His stomach rumbled in approval.
“Yo okay,” Sehun starts, and Kyungsoo already knows he is about to say something bizarre. “You see my man T.C. over there?” He used his food as a pointer to indicate to the man in question, who was silently biting into a carrot and eyeing Sehun wearily. Sehun looks directly at Kyungsoo, “you know why we call him T.C.? It's short for – wait for it – The Compass.”
Kyungsoo wasn’t sure if he was joking around since everyone seemed to be amused by default whenever Sehun spoke. “Is he… for real?” he directs his question to Jongin. He nods, faking solemnity.
“Dude, bro, like you don’t understand,” Sehun gushes. “It’s like the man has a magnetic field built into him. He’s our top priority by the way, since we need to take him out whenever we go. He’s also been keeping track of the time since the start.”
Kyungsoo perks up at this.
“Yep, it’ll be 19 months next week, at least according to the man over there.”
19 months. That’s almost… two years since he’s starting losing everything.
“That’s right, 19 months since shit hit the fan,” Hyojung enters their circle, taking the empty seat beside Sehun. Beside her sat two older men and a woman, introduced to him as Jiyong, Eric and Sooyoung. Kyungsoo recognises Sooyoung as the woman who opened the gate for them earlier in the evening.
“Dude hasn’t spoken a word since he joined us though, just uses vague gestures. He’s either mute or the strong, silent brooding type.”
Kyungsoo eyes T.C. licking his fingers, similar to a child. He then remembers something else that was mentioned.
“You said there were kids?” Kyungsoo directs the question to Hyojung.
“They’ve had their dinner early. They’d be fast asleep now.”
“Are they… any of yours?” Kyungsoo knows he is toeing the boundaries with his questions. He’s still a stranger here.
“No.” The air is infused with a lingering sadness, “they were hiding out in some of the classrooms when we got here. It was… not pretty.”
It was a good thing Kyungsoo was already done with his dinner, otherwise he wouldn’t have found the appetite to finish.
“I miss cheese toasties,” Sehun says randomly as he picks at the bones on his plate disdainfully.
“I don’t even remember what cheese tastes like, to be honest. Or toast,” Eric replies, still chowing down on his food.
Sehun hums before looking directly at Kyungsoo with a new found light in his eyes. “Kanye was a roach.”
“I’m– not sure what you mean,” Kyungsoo looked around to see the same amused smiles on everyone’s faces.
“We were on the road, myself and my brother – rest his soul – and we stopped by a gas station for food and supplies as you do,” Sehun had everyone captivated with his storytelling. “And what do you know! Out comes Yeezy! I couldn’t believe my eyes!”
“And he was… a biter?”
“Yep,” he smirks, popping the ‘p’ and leaning back cockily, “and guess which motherfucker killed him?”
“Your brother?” Wendy suggests.
“He always welcomes people with this story.” Hyojung speaks to Kyungsoo, ignoring the whining come from next to her with an affectionate smile and a roll of her eyes. Kyungsoo felt his chest stagger at the word ‘welcome’, as if he was already a part of their group, as if he had just been accepted into their family so seamlessly.
Apparently Jongin was also good at decrypting even the most minute of expressions from him, giving him an understanding smile. Kyungsoo instead looked back at Sehun as he continued the retelling of his ridiculous adventures.
“I can only hope Beyoncé is still alive.”
“Let me show you my happy place.”
Sehun wolf whistles as Jongin ushers him out of the circle. He sees Wendy and Hyojung nudge him in the ribs from either side. Kyungsoo and Jongin walk away hastily to the irritated chastising of “keep that shit down Oh Sehun, you’re going to wake the dead.”
Jongin led the way to the bus, moving further and further away from the comforting flames of the campfire. He stops beside it and grins boyishly down at Kyungsoo.
“As I’ll ever be, I suppose.”
Jongin began climbing the wooden ledges that had been messily attached to the side of the bus. Kyungsoo hadn’t noticed this before. Kyungsoo also tried his hardest not to watch Jongin climb from his angle, as he continuously put on foot above the other and reached the top.
Kyungsoo, it’s only been a day.
Kyungsoo shakes it off and climbs his way up the ladder after him, Jongin reaching out a helpful hand to haul him up. What greeted him above, simply amazed him.
The bus was high enough that you could see beyond the gates, even as far as the horizon. Kyungsoo spotted one of the aforementioned stacks of hay burning still, the small fire gathering biters as they lethargically walked around it, some even into it. From up here, the moonlight left the entire school yard on display, illuminating every inch it could reach and leaving few shadows behind. He felt both exposed and hidden. There were a few blankets on top of the roof of the bus, and Jongin hands a thick one over to him, which he gratefully accepted.
He sat on the edge with Jongin, letting his feet dangle in the air. In the distance, he could hear the soft murmurs of a dying conversation from where they came from. He looked up at the watchtower, making out a feminine figure. Probably Lily, unless they had more in their team.
Kyungsoo felt… relaxed. He could see why Jongin treats this spot as his personal sanctuary. Up here, he felt like he had a sense of control over himself, like he was flying instead of falling.
“I haven’t really given much thought to how I’d die but, I never expected it to be in a world like this.”
Kyungsoo side-eyed him quietly, giving no confirmation that he was his audience. Jongin continued anyway. “You don’t want to die. You and I both know that. If you wanted to die, you’d be dead by now.” The whole day he had spent with him, Kyungsoo hadn’t seen him like this. Jongin seemed simultaneously upset and unfazed by the topic of conversation. He was coded with emotions Kyungsoo could not fully decipher. “And death is coming whether you’re beside it or not. So don’t act like you want it.”
Kyungsoo thought he’d get angry at those words but he was surprised to find himself succumbing to a sense of resignation. If Jongin had told him this when they had first met, he would have been livid, but after the day’s events, after meeting people he could grow to love for the first time in a long time, all Kyungsoo feels is acceptance and peace. But not without a fight.
“I don’t want to get attached to people I’m eventually going to lose.”
“That’s… I’m sorry, but do you hear yourself?” Jongin tried his best not to raise his voice. He looks at Kyungsoo before calming down again, as if he can see for himself, the shift in Kyungsoo’s resolution. He sighs. “You and I both know that’s bullshit at this point. Look at you, you’re already so different from the man who had me pushed up against aisles of spam.”
“Canned fruit,” Kyungsoo muttered, still holding a grudge against him for interrupting his meal.
“Just,” he sighs again, “give us a chance won’t you?”
Kyungsoo has begun counting the days.
It’s been 46 days since he’s decided to stay with Jongin’s group. He doesn’t follow T.C.’s hypothetically accurate calendar. He feels like his life hadn’t started till he agreed to a fresh beginning at the school.
By the third day of his reluctant stay, Hyojung assigns him to train the children on how to survive the wild. Jongin disagrees with the premise of it, stating that they have more security than the prison. But Kyungsoo knows never to assume anything, so he’s unreservedly agreed to teach the five young survivors what he’s learned from his time alone.
Jongin introduces Kyungsoo to the children, their ages ranging from seven to twelve. Kyungsoo’s attention is immediately drawn to the youngest, Taeyong, and his protective older brother Taemin. Their bond reminded him of the one he shared with his brother, and the one he sees between Jongin and Sehun. Taemin always had at least one arm framing his brother’s shoulders at all times. Kyungsoo feels pins pricking in his chest at the sight.
The rest of the children were girls, Kayla, Yerim and Binnie. With tough skin and thick skulls, Kyungsoo is honestly both impressed and a little terrified by how eager they are to kick ass. He figures that they adopted these traits from Hyojung and Lily, never taking no for an answer, and stepping up to the plate no matter the task.
Kyungsoo felt his heart pang for them all. He realises that he’ll be okay taking on this hellhole, but these kids will never get the chance to live their childhood like he has. And in a couple of years, they won’t even remember what the world used to look like without the dead crawling all over it. They act like adults, even Taeyong, and Kyungsoo has to force his pity to the back of his mind before he begins teaching them.
Their favourite lesson, it turns out, is weapons. Kyungsoo isn’t sure at first about letting them handle knifes – he figured, from experience, that defence would be the best way for them to survive. He can’t stand the thought of them even being close to a biter. He teaches them anyway.
“If you see a biter,” they listen to Kyungsoo attentively, “you run and hide.”
They’re kids, but they don’t act like kids.
Sometimes though, Kyungsoo sees them fighting over the same knife, playing tag, making up stories about the ‘monsters’ beyond the wall and he’s reminded of just how young they are. And how much they’ve already seen, trapped in the school for months before Hyojung swept in.
Jongin usually watches his sessions if he is free, sometimes accompanied by Sehun, who just interjects his lessons with useless comments like, “do it for the vine!” when Taeyong almost stabs his brother.
Yerim, the youngest, has taken to following Kyungsoo around. He isn’t sure how he is supposed to feel about it, he was never the older brother type, but it was entertaining seeing Jongin get jealous over being treated as the second favourite big brother.
“I’m going to protect you!” She usually exclaims with determination, ever ready to protect her new “handsome brother” and “marry you when I’m older.” It’s a little cliché, but he was overwhelmed still. She would usually cling on to his hand, or his arm, or his leg, whichever she could reach. Binnie and Kayla had long since given up vying for his attention, instead staying loyal to Jongin.
Sehun pretends he isn’t affected at all by the lack of attention, but he’s really the biggest kid.
The children, although mature, ground Kyungsoo to a world where there is still a semblance of normalcy left. Kyungsoo feels his heart grow bigger to make room for them, one by one.
The days go by and Jongin insists on running errands without Kyungsoo, maintaining that Kyungsoo has been out alone, for far too long. Jongin always pulls the Kyungsoo-deserves-to-stay-in-for-a-
Though sometimes they do go out together, go for rides in the same black Chevy Jongin brought him in with. As promised, Kyungsoo is given his long-awaited chance to sit behind the wheel.
Being able to drive again made Kyungsoo realise how much freedom he could find in smaller things he’d previously taken for granted. There was a peculiar surge of power he felt with the wind rushing through his hair, and moving forward without the sun constantly beating his back or looking behind his shoulder every other second. It felt even better with Jongin by his side.
They would pass by the occasional biter, its mangled body turning their way to fruitlessly follow them. Kyungsoo hasn't killed any biters since he’s stayed with them but, there was a different rush to speeding passed one without having to blow its brains out.
Kyungsoo loves the drives. He’s started to love being in the school as well, but despite the large grounds, he still feels trapped. He wasn’t used to being in one place for so long, and Jongin understands that. More than anything, Kyungsoo loves spending time with Jongin on these drives. Kyungsoo doesn't think of them as ‘dates’ per say, but he knows what he’s felt for Jongin that first day has only grown, an incessant beating against his chest.
He isn’t stupid enough not to not know that Jongin feels the same way, though he does try to squash the thought of him getting too close.
He’d become more and more fond of Jongin as the days go by. And Jongin had proven to be more than just a ghost from his past, but a companion he could count on in the present.
Jongin skirts around him every possible chance he could get. He had his own chores to do at the school (going on supply runs, hunting, sewing – Kyungsoo was surprised to find out he was in charge of patching up their clothes), and yet he would always spare some time to hang around Kyungsoo, to pester him and tease him about their high school days. Kyungsoo honestly thinks some of the things Jongin comes up with are fabricated, but he decides to humour him anyway.
“October 2016, I remember clear as day,” Jongin begins. Kyungsoo is already rolling his eyes. “Didn’t you write Shrek fanfiction and post it on the school’s official website?”
Kyungsoo stops what he’s doing and looks at him in disbelief. There was no way he could remember that. “That was just senior prank, Jongin.”
His knows his prank wasn’t even the most iconic one of that year. He furrowed his brows, trying to remember what prank it actually was that nearly had the entire school on lockdown. He gave up, setting his sights back to the task at hand: washing the dishes.
Jongin raised his eyebrows. “Why don’t you fool around like that now?” He almost whined. “Man, if Sehun knew you liked Shrek…” he paused. “I thought it was very good by the way. Very well written. Ten out of ten for characterisation.”
“I don’t even remember what I wrote,” Kyungsoo mutters, disgruntled.
“I can recite it for you,” Jongin offers. He clears his throat when he doesn’t get a response. “Swamp of Dreams, by Do Kyung–“
Kyungsoo shuts him up by shoving the wet dishcloth in his open mouth.
By the nineteenth day, Jongin got him to drive the both of them down a new route towards the edge of the forest, a few miles away from the school. It was far enough that Kyungsoo couldn’t see the building any longer, but close enough for them to have made it by foot.
Jongin got out of the vehicle, and motioned for Kyungsoo to do the same. They were both armed of course; Kyungsoo listlessly holding on to his bat while Jongin’s handgun was safely nestled in his belt.
They were quiet as they walked deeper into the forest, following a steep, narrow path. They were both light on their feet, moving with the light breeze and barely crunching any twigs under their feet. Jongin was leading him, and by now, Kyungsoo didn’t hesitate to follow.
Kyungsoo’s ears pricked, having picked up on the gush of running water. Jongin turned around to smile at him widely, momentarily mesmerising him in the same way the tinkling sound of the water flowing down the rocks did.
They stepped out into a clearing.
Kyungsoo’s jaw slackened at the sight before him. They were surrounded by low hanging branches of pale green leaves, swaying lazily with the breeze. The sun rays filtered through the trees, reflecting its light on the small spring that sat in the centre. It was the kind of place one would miss if they weren't looking for it, shielded behind rows and row of green. The water, clear and cool, beckoned to them enticingly. It was as if here, time crept by at a different pace. He didn’t think he could ever stop to admire a sight like this again.
“If something does happen to the school, this is our rendezvous point,” Jongin interrupts his awe-struck daze. “If something goes wrong, you come here, okay?”
A soft snap stops Kyungsoo from responding, garnering his and Jongin’s attention to their left. Hidden just outside the clearing, stands a girl with her back to them. There was no groaning or grumbling coming from her, so Kyungsoo assumes they’re human.
But, never assume anything.
Kyungsoo raises his bat, steadying himself so he could rush forward and strike but Jongin throws his arm across to stop him. When he gives the other a confused look, the only response he receives is a wordless motion of his hands, gesturing that Kyungsoo should just stay put and observe.
He begrudgingly listens, still keeping the bat close to his side. They both watch as the girl, a living, breathing girl, mutilates the tree. It’s strange to see a young girl all by herself in the middle of the forest. Sure, they hadn’t come across a lot of biters in this area, but they couldn’t just leave her alone. They slowly creep in on her, trying not to alert her.
Before they could reach her, she finally realised that she wasn’t alone. She turned around to regard them with a look of horror before taking off in a sprint, disappearing deeper into the forest before either of them could react, let alone stop her.
He almost ran after her, but instead stepped closer to the tree to look at her handiwork. His eyes widen when he recognised the letters.
J S S
Kyungsoo felt the carving into the tree, the inscription rough against the pads of his fingers. The girl had pierced it deep enough that Kyungsoo could feel a little bit of cool moisture seeping through. He is taken back to the day he locked himself in the car, when he was at the brink of giving up. He had seen the same three letters back then. But he hadn’t known what it meant. He still didn’t know, but… he was struck by a sense of achievement at having kept his promise. To live for her.
The person who had left their mark behind on the car, and now the tree… they were still alive. Kyungsoo laughs happily, relief he exhales for the girl, and for himself, making him feel giddy. He owed it to her; he doesn’t know if he’d be here where he was if he hadn’t seen that first message.
And there was something about seeing her being alive that ignited a stronger sense of hope in him.
Jongin brings him back here occasionally, so that Kyungsoo can listen to the pleasing trickle of the spring and appreciate the markings against the tree. He comes back so he can sit by Jongin’s side and enjoy the stillness of the air around them, almost as if life had hit the pause button for them.
They’ve been engaging in what could only be described as ‘pillow talk’ over the past weeks. Reminiscing about their shared past, deeply discussing their future under the starlight, tangling their legs while talking about their dreams.
Kyungsoo was surprised with how he managed to stay composed while telling Jongin stories about him and his brother, from before the apocalypse. Of the yearly family camping trips to places like the clearing in the forest Jongin introduced him to, of how they always bickered over the most trivial things, of how he was reminded of him every time he looked at Taemin, or Sehun.
He doesn’t shed a tear when he tells Jongin about how he saw his brother get his body torn apart by decaying teeth right in front of him, while he was given the chance to run. His brother had been the last member of his family to have survived with him. And then he was on his own for the first time.
Jongin was an amazing listener. He listened to him like he was drinking in every word that was being said, committing it to memory. Not just what Kyungsoo was saying but his breaths, his pauses, his gestures. He would interject with comments at the right time, often aiming to make Kyungsoo laugh, or even smile.
Never has he attempted to dive in to claim Kyungsoo’s lips, but he looks at him with so much longing that it seems to pain him to be keeping this much space between them. Kyungsoo is grateful that he is giving him time till he’s ready to close the distance.
But that’s just one step he’s still afraid to take.
It seems like Jongin is almost always by his side, and Kyungsoo would fight a hundred biters to keep him there.
“You don’t trust me, do you?”
Kyungsoo looked up at him uncertainly, only to have Jongin avert his eyes. Kyungsoo sighed. “I trust you. I trust all of you guys with my life Jongin, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I wouldn’t have stayed this long if I didn’t.” Jongin continued playing with his own fingers, forehead marred with frown lines as if Kyungsoo hadn’t yet answered his question. “But that’s not what you’re asking for, is it?”
Jongin exhaled in response.
On the 43rd night, Kyungsoo leant back on his hands and stared at the sky. The stars scattered across its vast expanse mirrored all the thoughts dusting his head. He sighed. Maybe it’s time he stopped running.
He looked at Jongin, finding the man already looking back at him with the same intensity as he always had in his eyes. The atmosphere was thick, the air between them static, turning breathing into a chore for him. Jongin smiles softly, gently, and Kyungsoo thinks he is much more mesmerising than the view he gets sitting on top of the bus, or kneeling beside the spring, or driving along empty roads.
Kyungsoo leans in first, bringing his hand to gently cup the side of Jongin’s face before slowly connecting their lips. The kiss was barely there, but overwhelming at the same time. Kyungsoo wanted to pull away and push for more, and Jongin senses that he couldn’t make the decision on his own.
He pushes Kyungsoo down by his shoulders, a surprised “oof!” leaving his lips as the wind is knocked out of him. He’s oddly reminded of the time Jongin found him in the warehouse, but all coherency was lost when he was straddled by the other, his groan swallowed by Jongin’s mouth.
Jongin kisses Kyungsoo hard against the surface of the bus, the grip on his shoulders firm enough that he’s sure to wake up to sizable handprints stamped on his skin by tomorrow. He kisses him with a hunger that can’t be satiated no matter how much of Kyungsoo he tastes. It’s like he can’t get enough of Kyungsoo, and Kyungsoo’s lips, and Kyungsoo’s skin and every bit of Kyungsoo he can get his hands and lips on.
He doesn’t slow down. Jongin’s hands roam down his torso, pressing him harder against the rough surface while Kyungsoo’s own hands scramble clumsily to tug on the other’s hair. His lips move feverishly, Kyungsoo rushing to keep up with his rough pace. It was delicious, this feeling of being so wanted, having someone so close to him that he doesn’t know where he ends and Jongin begins.
Jongin pushes and pushes, hard enough to let the desperation seep through each searing touch.
Jongin slowed to a near stop, making Kyungsoo whine against him in protest. He smirked naughtily, remaining close enough that Kyungsoo could still feel his hot breath against his mouth. What a tease.
Kyungsoo felt cold and warm all at the same time, a stirring at the pit of his stomach beginning to ache almost painfully.
He dived in again, this time leaving little, affectionate pecks all over his mouth, his nose, his cheeks, before pulling at his bottom lip with his teeth. Kyungsoo is embarrassed by the sounds that leave him, but he couldn’t give a single fuck at this point. He was just gone.
“God, I want you.”
Before he could even keep up with their pace, they were both stripped, baring themselves for each other, as Jongin smiles down at him like he’s the one thing that makes sense to him in this fucked up world. Like Kyungsoo himself is the cure for the end of mankind.
It is probably the worst place to do this, on the roof of the bus with blankets underneath and over them, with the sounds of the undead just metres from where they lay and without any lubricant other than Jongin’s saliva.
But under the light of the stars, Jongin looks completely hypnotising, and Kyungsoo wonders why he’s waited this long to give in to him.
“Don't be too loud,” Jongin breathes, lightly biting the side of his neck as if to challenge Kyungsoo to go against his words, “we don’t want to attract biters do we? Or Sehun.”
Kyungsoo laughs airlessly, his grip on Jongin’s biceps tightening. Trust Jongin to find a way to ruin the mood. “Is this your idea of dirty talk? Why would you, ah– mention Sehun when we’re fucking?”
Kyungsoo’s hushed moans are met by the groans of stray biters outside their wall, and despite how intense this was for the both of them, they couldn’t let go of the hilarity of the situation.
Jongin kisses his forehead as Kyungsoo continues to laugh. “This has got to be the both the most and least romantic moment of my life.”
Jongin lies down beside a blissed out Kyungsoo, both content with catching their breaths at their own pace. Kyungsoo feels happier than he has felt in a long time. For the first time, he finds himself thinking about now; not the past, not the future, but right now, in Jongin’s arms.
“Why? Are you already up for round two?” Jongin looks at him incredulously.
Kyungsoo snorts, “I would honestly love to, but not up here, please. My back is killing me. I don’t even want to move right now.”
Jongin plays with his fingers mindlessly, sending shivers that had nothing to do with the breeze crawling down Kyungsoo’s spine. “Was that your first time?”
Kyungsoo raises his eyebrow at him, only to be met with Jongin’s genuine puppy eyes. “No, sorry. Baekhyun was my first.”
“Baekhyun? Byun Baekhyun? No way, I never would have guessed.”
“You remember Baekhyun?” Kyungsoo is still amazed by how much Jongin can store in his mind. He himself sees only slivers of what Baekhyun was like. Cat-like grin, dainty hands… that’s about it.
“Photographic memory. Why do you still doubt me?”
Kyungsoo hums, “Whatever. What about your first time?”
Kyungsoo almost sits up at Jongin’s hesitation. Kim Jongin, high school heartthrob, a virgin?
“I’m kidding. I had a thing with this college girl once, Song Qian. She was foreign. And pretty.” Kyungsoo huffed, and Jongin laughed. “Yeah okay, not as good looking as you, manly man Kyungsoo.”
“Do you know what happened to her?”
Jongin shrugs. He plays a mindless game of thumb war with Kyungsoo’s limp thumb. “What about Baekhyun?”
“He… turned.” Kyungsoo shudders. One of his biggest regrets was pushing Baekhyun’s lively face to the back of his memories, while the biter version of him resided in the forefront of his mind. “He woke up, right in front of me and I… didn’t know what to do. He almost got me, too. He was the first I ever killed.”
“Baekhyun’s one lucky man, to think he’s taken two of your first times,” Jongin jokes, but kisses his temple right after. “I’m sorry about what happened.”
Kyungsoo smiles, shaking his head. He’s learned to accept death as a consequence of this world. He’s just going to have to fight it for as long as he can.
They doze off together that way, securely tangled in each other. They sleep in each other’s arms with a comfort and familiarity that has seemingly always lingered between them, even before tonight.
“So I heard you two fuck on top of the bus.” Sehun casually wakes them from the foot of the bus, a steaming mug of hot cocoa in his hands. The sun is still peaking through the horizon, notifying them that they shouldn’t have to deal with Sehun for a good two hours at least.
“Goddammit Sehun,” Jongin mutters, genuinely annoyed. Jongin and Kyungsoo are both fully awake now, and irritated at the interruption.
“Does this mean Kyungsoo is gonna stay?” Sehun pays no heed. Kyungsoo furrowed his brows at him. “Oh please, pretty much everyone in this group knew about your existential crisis.”
“I decided to stay ages ago, get with the times man.”
“Sehun, stop talking like that. Memes died when the internet died.” Jongin said, like he was explaining it for the thousandth time.
“Why do you always have to do that?” Sehun scoffs unattractively as he finally began to walk away with all the sass he could muster, muttering what sounds suspiciously like, “Harambe wouldn’t treat me this way.”
“What’s a Harambe?” Kyungsoo questions quietly so as to remain respectful, just in case it’s a group ritual he doesn’t know of.
“Fuck if I know,” Jongin shook his head, in what seemed like second-hand embarrassment. He smiled then, at nothing in particular but nearly blindsiding Kyungsoo with its brightness. “He’s so strange. So is everyone else here if I’m being real. I mean, take me for an example. You said so yourself, I’m ‘still a pain in the ass’.” Kyungsoo felt guilty enough to try disputing this, but Jongin just continued on, “well, a different pain in the ass now, anyway”.
Kyungsoo tit-punches him. Jongin pretends it doesn’t hurt, subtly rubbing his pecs.
“I’m fucking you next time,” Kyungsoo mumbles, disgruntled. He receives a comforting peck on the cheek instead.
Jongin breaks the silence once again. “Everyone here is special, in their own weird way but… I love them. I love them all so much and I…” he paused to look down at his toes. Kyungsoo kept his gaze on Jongin’s side profile, admiring the marks he’d left against sharp edge of his jaw.
“I want to love you in the same way.”
Kyungsoo leant against the black Chevy, arms crossed, watching in disdain as Jongin packed his things. Jongin, T.C. and Jiyong were to find more firewood and fuel before the group ran out. Which was, in Kyungsoo’s opinion, redundant since they already had so much in storage up in the watchtower. The town Kyungsoo had met Jongin in had completely burnt out in supplies, so the one they frequented now was a little further north.
“I told you, I’ll be back before it gets dark.”
He grips the back of Jongin’s neck and pulls him down for a searing kiss. Kyungsoo hated being held back while Jongin went on runs, but he bit back a retort to wish him a safe trip.
“I’ll see you soon.” Kyungsoo kisses him one more time, ignoring the catcalls from surprisingly, not just Sehun.
He watches Jongin and the others pull out of the driveway, with Jongin blowing him a quick kiss before disappearing down the empty tracks. Kyungsoo, as usual, pretends to be disgusted.
He tries to make himself useful while Jongin returns, reading an old book from the library on top of the bus (half-reading, half-watching the road, though he’s not going to admit that), teaching the kids how to maneuver their knives (though Binnie seems to have taken a liking to spears, instead) and even helping Eric and Sooyoung with the garden.
He felt utterly restless and he could never find something to get his mind off Jongin when he wasn’t by his side. T.C. and Jiyong too, for that matter. Everyone here was his family now. And he was worried sick every time they’d leave without him.
He stops by Sehun’s room in the evening, finding the boy reading a comic on his bed.
“Hey Meme King,” Kyungsoo smirks before stepping inside Sehun’s room, shoving the other’s long legs aside and making space for him.
“Sup’ douche,” Sehun barely looks up from his comic, lethargic legs coming back up and onto Kyungsoo's lap.
He was afraid of getting close to Sehun as well, once upon a time. He’d always felt a rush of something akin to brotherly love rush through him as he watched Sehun and Jongin exchange playful banter. But now, engaging in the same playful banter with him felt natural.
Before he could even retort mindlessly to his insults, a loud crackle resonated through the air, succeeded by a thunderous quake beneath their feet. Sehun and Kyungsoo looked at each other in a moment of terror and recognition.
The next second was filled with an eerie silence. Soon enough, shrill screams resounded from the school’s yard and a sense of dread hung heavy in the pit of his stomach.
Kyungsoo stands still with the blood rushing to his ears and his heart beating too fast and too loud. His vision blurs momentarily, intensified by the panic rising up to his throat. He couldn't breathe.
Sehun was quick on his feet. He shoves his rifle urgently towards Kyungsoo.
“Take the kids and go,” Sehun stops in front of a panicky Kyungsoo and gently cups his face. “Listen, I’m sure Jongin is fine, okay? But we need to get out. Just get the kids out of here and take them to the meeting point. I’ll meet you there.”
Kyungsoo nods, fumbling with the rifle before breaking out into a run.
The moment he lands on the yard, the first thing he sees is nothing. His eyes burn from all the smoke around him, suffocating him in its embrace. He keeps the rifle aimed at whatever that is going to break through the putrid veil. He looks up to see the watchtower and… there’s no watchtower. It’s broken up completely, whatever foundation left covered in soot.
There’s a fire. It’s burning through most of the wooden pegs and with the watch tower having fallen on the fence, it’s been made easy for the flames to spread inside the school. Bringing with it, an attraction for every biter in the vicinity.
By the time he goes into the kid’s rooms, they have already been emptied.
He hears the low growl coming from his left, and sure enough a biter appears in his line of vision. Kyungsoo drives the end of the rifle through its eye, stopping it in its tracks. He didn’t want to shoot it and create more noise. The last thing he needed was for more biters to be aware of where he was.
But it seemed futile in his part. The next thing he knew, he saw at least a dozen more biters walk his way, manifesting from the smoke, arms outstretched and mummified mouths wide open.
He sprints away from them and the cloud of smoke as fast as his legs could offer. He hoped the biters would move towards the flames instead of pursuing him.
Kyungsoo finds the side exit, the gate left slightly open. He hoped the others had escaped through it as well, and that he wasn’t leaving anyone behind. He couldn’t tell if the tears obscuring his vision was a result of the smoke, or his imminent fear. He stumbled around confused in the dying light of the evening and the burning embers of the school, trying to get further and further away from what was once his home. Even if it was for a short time, it still felt like home.
But that was just a building. He needed to find the people that made him fall in love all over again, the people who made him believe that fighting in this world was worth more than surviving alone. His heart races just a little bit faster.
He moved as quickly as he could away from it, knowing that the burning building would only attract more biters. He bashes two more that have wandered his way, channelling his anger and agony towards killing as many of the dead as he could. His whole body starts to feel like it’s being pulled to the ground.
Slowing to a walk, Kyungsoo has been on the road for what felt like ages. He knew where he had to go, he had faith that the others would be there. That Jongin would be there.
He felt extremely light-headed. Images flashed in his mind… Sehun’s witty humour, Wendy’s wacky laugh, Jongin’s sincere smile, Jongin’s soft voice, Jongin’s warm touches, Jongin.
He was snapped back to the present by the sounds of faint, almost painful groaning. No mistaking it was a biter. He clutches the rifle angrily. The smoke still lingered in the air and Kyungsoo found it extremely difficult to hold back his coughs so he wouldn’t alert any others near him as he approached the weak gasps. He gripped the rifle harder, before bringing it up.
It was definitely a biter; he could see that through the exaggerated movements. It was stuck underneath a heavy branch, weakly reaching out to Kyungsoo with his arm. Kyungsoo steps closer arms shaking in his hatred for the thing.
Bile clogged his throat up the moment he recognised the figure under the ashes.
“No. No, no, no, no,” Kyungsoo muttered, his entire body froze. He couldn’t even step away from it; he couldn’t look away. He was completely immobile with shock. “Not you, please, not you.”
It hisses and gasps, calling out to him.
He couldn’t trust his eyes. It had to be a trick of the smoke, he must have inhaled too much of it.
His body began to obey him again. He moved closer to the biter cautiously, eliciting excited groans from it. The hand reaches out to him insistently, reminding him of the uniformed biter he bludgeoned on top the roof weeks ago. All he felt was a bone-crushing sense of despair, sending waves of pain through his entire body as he stares into its glazed eyes.
With an aggressive growl, its other hand broke free and grabbed Kyungsoo’s ankle, yanking Kyungsoo’s body towards it and bringing it closer to its mouth so it could bite the flesh off his bones.
Out of instinct, Kyungsoo kicks it violently in the face.
He didn’t get time to regret hurting it, realising that it couldn’t feel pain like Kyungsoo did. It couldn't feel anything, but the inexorable urge to eat. The man he used to be was no more. He was just a biter now. He was dead.
The corpse continued to groan and struggle, making a mockery of Kyungsoo’s pain. Kyungsoo couldn’t even cry. He raised the gun, and shot once.
Kyungsoo staggered to a stop when he heard a shout of his name. Lifting his head up, he could see the tall, familiar figure approaching him in a run. Even from the distance, Kyungsoo would recognise him.
Something heavy fell in the pit of his stomach, and he felt like he needed to throw up all over again.
“Kyungsoo, oh thank god you’re okay.” He kept feeling him up and down, checking for injuries, cupping his face, pulling him in for a hug, but Kyungsoo couldn’t find it in him to reciprocate. Or to feel relieved at all. He was shaking all over. “Now we only need to find–“
He started a little, but continued on, knowing how the aftermaths of the fire must have shocked him, “Kyungsoo, it’s going to be okay. We have you now, we just need to go–“
“Jong– no, Jongin… he’s gone.”
The tears he had been holding back threatened to resurface once again, but he knew he needed to be strong. He tried to hold himself together as confusion, disbelief and a thousand other emotions rushed through the other’s face till he finally realised the meaning of his words.
“Sehun? I– How? It can’t be, Kyungsoo please no,” his words registered hollowly in his head. He grips Jongin’s jacket in tight fists.
“I’m sorry. Sehun’s dead, Jongin. I’m so sorry.”
“How did the fire start?”
Kyungsoo had Jongin wrapped up in blankets, his hand threading through his hair as consolingly as he could. Jongin was trembling underneath the layers. For once, he couldn’t even hear the rush of water against the rocks over the sound of his heart breaking.
Yerim was silently crying next to him, burying her face against his torso with a strong grip on his other hand. It almost hurt, but he couldn’t really feel anything at the moment but a coldness in his core. Not the kind of cold that makes your body shiver, but the cold that holds you locked in its vice-like grip, rooting you to the ground so that you couldn't do anything but watch the rest of the world fall apart.
“The firework misfired… It exploded in Wendy’s hands and all over the gasoline”, Sooyoung recounted, too shocked to cry herself.
“So Wendy…?” Hyojung questioned.
Sooyoung shakes her head. She had seen everything. From the explosion, to Eric getting buried in the rubble, to one of the kids, she didn’t even realise who at the time, being ripped to pieces right in front of her. She buries her face in her hands.
Kyungsoo counts the children. Only four. His chest tightens to a painful pinch when he sees Taeyong without his brother.
Hyojung wipes her eyes, sniffing before stating, “We've lost many of our family today.” She chokes on a sob. “But we can’t let that stop us from fighting.”
Kyungsoo is startled when Jongin raises himself up. “Kyungsoo was right. That stupid plan was bound to fail. We can’t be happy in this world. We’re all just going to–“
“Hey, hey,” Kyungsoo hushes him softly, rubbing his back to try and calm him down.
“What, are you going to leave again?”
Kyungsoo knows Jongin didn’t mean it, and he can see the immediate regret reflecting in his dark eyes. “Sorry.” He pulls Kyungsoo close to him.
“It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
They’re behind the two vehicles that were recovered in the disaster, sluggishly cruising down a new path. In any case of emergency, they could still all fit inside them, but Kyungsoo and Jongin opt out of sitting this one. Instead, they’re leisurely walking, hand in hand.
Kyungsoo shrugs his shoulder, trying to get Sehun’s rifle to slip back in place.
It’s been days since they left their home in the flames. The fresh air is different to all the times Kyungsoo drove them around with their windows down. There was no breeze whipping hair all over his face. But even in the motionlessness of the air, he felt at peace, almost calm even.
“What are we going to do now?”
Jongin stopped walking, and like him, Kyungsoo stops too. He felt his hand being gripped tightly by the other.
“You and I,” Jongin looked at him. There’s still a sadness lingering behind his eyes, but his gentle smile is tenderly bandaging his own broken soul. “We’re going to live. Together.”
“Together,” he affirmed.
Kyungsoo squeezed the warm hand held in his, a small, genuine smile perched on his lips. They continued to walk.
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